Heath Kuszak

Heath Kuszak

“Show up. Be consistent. If you’re gonna go through all that trouble to do all the training, then show up, because your skills can be put to good use.”

Heath Kuszak

Heath Kuszak

Volunteer ADO/EMR

Station 2: Wilson

Where are you from? I moved here from Arkansas.

How come? A bunch of my friends that I grew up with and went to school with basically quit school and started working at Dornan’s, so I came up and visited them. I decided this was a really cool place to be. Like everybody else, I came to visit and stayed. That was 21 or 22 years ago now and I never left.

What do you do for work? I am a landscape architect and land planner.

How do you spend your free time? We go skiing a lot in the winter, well, I actually snowboard, but we do that a lot with my kids and friends. In the summertime we do a lot of camping as a family, and hiking, backpacking, fishing, mountain biking, you know, all the typical Jackson activities.

How long have you been a part of JH Fire/EMS? This is my 15th year.

What made you want to join initially? I just wanted to help the community I suppose. My wife and I were backcountry skiing up on Shadow Mountain after we first got married and she broke her leg and it was like 4 degrees out and we were on the backside of the mountain so we had to get SAR called out. I felt a need to pay that back ever since and I joined the fire department shortly after.

What is your role in the department? I am a volunteer out of Station 2.

What are your current certifications? Firefighter 1, ADO, and EMR.

What are your future goals in the department? I am pretty comfortable where I’m at; with three kids that are relatively young (14, 12, and 9) I just want to spend as much time as I can with them. 

What would you say is your favorite part about volunteering? Definitely the camaraderie with our fellow firefighters. 

You definitely seem to have a good family over there at Station 2!

Is there anything that is particularly challenging for you about volunteering? I think you’ve probably heard this a million times, but retention. We have a pretty small crew over there at Station 2: I think we have 7 people and thankfully, we are pretty consistently showing up to everything. It would be nice if we had more people to rely on. A lot of times, we get somebody really good, get them trained, they’re around for a year or two, and then they lose their housing and they have no choice but to leave. We’ve lost like a half a dozen people like that who were really good. The housing issue is definitely a big hurdle, and it’s not only us: it’s one that the entire county needs to deal with.

What advice would you give new recruits? Show up. Be consistent. If you’re gonna go through all that trouble to do all the training, then show up, because your skills can be put to good use.

Is there anything you wish you could tell your past self now? I suppose just be prepared for the amount of training that’s required. I don’t know if I really understood what that was. People would tell me, because my wife was pregnant with our first child when I was going through initial training, they would say, ‘get it done now before you have kids.’ So just understand and expect a lot of training, which we need. 

What is the most valuable trait for someone to have? A willingness to listen and to not think you know everything, cause you don’t.

What do you think you bring to the department? Consistency I suppose: I’ve been showing up for 15 years and have no plans to change.

Do you feel like you gravitate towards one type of hazard? Definitely fire, well fire and rescue. I think the EMS side is a necessity to have because we are first responders a lot of the time, but with the amount of things I have on my plate with family and work, I feel like my brain space is pretty full.

So, because you mentioned family, I’ll skip to this question: how has it been as a volunteer with your family at home? How do you manage that and have those conversations about leaving at all hours of the day and night, the time commitment, having a loud pager on, etc.? That’s the trick. I mean, my kids don’t know any different: I’ve been a firefighter ever since they were born, so they don’t know anything else. It is difficult to be gone pretty much once every week, every wednesday night, and sometimes you have to work around other family things that are going on or kids activities that are going on. Sometimes you have to miss them, and sometimes you have to prioritize them over a fire, so you just have to find that balance within your own situation. 

Do you have a mentor or someone that you particularly look up to in the department? Oh boy…a lot of those people are probably gone or retired now. I guess we do have some forms of leadership at Station 2, but we are more just leading ourselves so I would say that I value the relationship that we have at Station 2 because we’ve been together for a long time and we really know how each other works. I really appreciate that. Chief Hansen was a pretty good model. I looked up to him a lot. I was sad to see him go, but I understand that it was time for him to move on and time for new beginnings.